I vividly remember the day I realized that my expectations were slamming me.
For a while, I continued trying to justify their existence with a whole load of buts…. but…. But… BUT only to realize that it was all a feeble attempt to prove myself right. Surely it’s okay to expect? But if I don’t expect, then what?
On the odd occasion where my expectations were met, I felt so good. I felt so right! That then brought me to see the irony in the word “right” – says who? Says me? Oh, now I am right? How pious and righteous I was.
I expected my husband to be just like me; organized, punctual, interested in all the things I was… I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t organized, punctual, interested in all the things I was and judged him because of it.
I expected my kids to be like me; why did they forget so much? I didn’t forget that much when I was their age…
It was when my kids started going to school that I began to realize that I had high expectations.
“I expect you to tidy your room.” I’d say to my daughter.
“Why?” she asked. “It’s my room and it’s me who has to live in it, not you. Messy is “right” for me.”
What a wake-up call that was.
I was an “expectator” extraordinaire! Where was EA (Expectators Anonymous) when I needed it?
Do you expect a lot from certain situations or things?
Do you expect a lot from the people who surround you?
Do you expect your partner to come home and know exactly what it is you want him/her to do?
Do you expect your kids to pick up their clothes off the floor?
Do you expect the bulbs you plant in your garden to grow?
What if a squirrel eats them? Then what?
Could you plant them and instead of expecting them to grow, just watch and wait and sit in the space of not knowing and believe that you will get what you are going to get.
If that loser squirrel eats them, maybe you won’t be quite so let down?
I ask all these questions because many people cruise through their lives, like I did, not realizing how much they expect and that for much of their time are slammed by the expectations they have on themselves and/or the expectations they have on others, not being met.
EXPECTATIONS WEIGH YOU DOWN
I used to suffer a lot because of this. I spent a lot of my time feeling sorry for myself for having to live with people who didn’t live up to my expectations. Kids included.
Are you what I now call an “expectator”?
As I became more aware of this I began to realize that many of my expectations didn’t go to plan anyway and I was the one who was let down. Let down by myself and let down by others.
Let down by my own expectations.
EXPECTATIONS LET YOU DOWN
I see this in many of the parents I work with; they are all caught up in their expectations of their kids. And it’s not just parents.
The schools are wrapped up in their expectations of the students.
Like it or not, we are all “controlled” by expectations society has on us.
EXPECTATIONS CAUSE SUFFERING
After all is said and done, much of our suffering comes about as a result of unmet expectations. We suffer because we cannot predict the future, yet we have all sort of grand expectations of how the future WILL turn out.
Expectations have the potential to let you down.
And not having expectations is no guarantee that something won’t happen.
Parents often say to me, “But I have to have expectations for my kids. They have to know I expect certain things from them.”
I believe that the only person I have any “right” to expect anything from is myself and even this is a dangerous and fragile territory to find myself.
When it comes to my kids, I now realize that if expect things from them, it becomes all about me and my plan for them. And who am I to have an expectation of them. Just because I am their mom doesn’t give me the right to expect them to do things according to my plan.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of an expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen”.
Let’s look at the A grade, that you would like your child to get. If you expect your child to get an A grade, in your mind you have a strong belief that they will get an A grade. Right?
The bigger question would surely be this: does your child have a strong belief that h/she will get an A grade? If they do, sure, there’s a chance the expectation will be met but there’s also a chance that they will not.
But if they don’t believe that they’ll get an A grade and you believe they will and they know it, they have to live up to your expectations.
What might it feel like for your child to feel that they have to live up to your expectations?
And more to the point, how might you react to that in the moment when the C grade comes home and you expected the A?
What do you feel like when you know you have to live up to someone else’s high and lofty expectations of you?
EXPECTATIONS ARE FUTURE ORIENTATED
An expectation is future-oriented. It’s a prediction of an outcome that hasn’t happened yet, so it’s always going to be a gamble and near impossible to accurately predict. There is always an element of uncertainty. There are always squirrels!
So, do we really need to have as many or any expectations of ourselves and of others in our life?
I have come to the stage in my life where I try to have as few expectations as possible and life is much better this way. And I am helping my kids see the ridiculousness in expecting anything!
They can now understand that expecting a gift from Great Aunty Ethel is no guarantee of getting a gift from Great Aunty Ethel!
All that expectations do is force us to enter a situation with a pre-conceived plan of how it should go despite knowing that all sorts of things could come between you and the plan. Great Aunty Ethel is 95-years-old, she might forget, she might remember. Why expect? You will get what you get – gift or no gift. The expectation does not change or influence the outcome.
EXPECTATIONS ROB YOU FROM PRESENCE
Being future oriented an expectation removes you from your current reality. It takes you away from what’s happening right now. It blocks you from the present moment and subsequently blocks you from anyone who is in the moment with you.
Let’s say for example I expect that when my husband comes home today he’s going to bring in the garbage bins from the curb because it’s garbage day today.
He comes in and I look outside and the garbage bins are on the street.
EXPECTATIONS LEAD TO JUDGMENT
Immediately, I feel let down by him. And I judge him, “WT* he didn’t bring them in again? He knows they need to come in”.
When we expect something of someone it sets us up to resist how the present moment might actually unfold if it’s not in accordance with our plan of what we expected.
Some of you might argue that I “should” expect that of my husband and that’s okay but I simply ask you this: who would be suffering? It certainly wasn’t my husband! It was always me who suffered. Poor Little Old Me. OMG I used to suffer from PLOM disease so badly. And a lot of my suffering was due to unmet expectations.
How would it look like to have no expectations?
When my husband walks in the door, I see him and greet him, then simply look outside and say “Hey, do you mind bringing the garbage cans in? Thanks!”
Same with kids; could you have no expectations for them?
Could you have no expectations for the tidy room or A grade?
The truth of it is this: having no expectations does not mean a messy room and a D grade.
EXPECTATIONS DON’T CHANGE THE OUTCOME
It simply means having no expectations. That’s all.
Expectations complicate things and relationship because life happens. And life will happen regardless of our expectations.
EXPECTATIONS INTERFERE WITH OUR RELATIONSHIPS
If I expect something of someone, it predisposes me to judge them because I will judge the outcome according to my plan.
For me, expectations, judgment and “shoulds” are very similar.
In my work as a parent coach, the most exceptional expectators of all are the perfectionist moms. So many women had lofty expectations of their capacity to be the perfect mom. There are probably few of us out there who didn’t think we would nail it! It looked so easy, didn’t it? I mean what did moms do with all their time? I expected to have so much time only to find I didn’t.
Perfectionists can end up setting the bar so high that they can’t help but struggle to meet their own, often lofty expectations. Very often, the things they expect of themselves go unmet because they’re unrealistic, unreasonable, and often unobtainable.
EXPECTATIONS DISCONNECT YOU FROM EVERYTHING
What’s the cost of having expectations on ourselves, or expectations on another?
The price we pay is that we can end up feeling disconnected from ourselves and disconnected from those we expect from. We feel like we let ourselves down and can feel let down by those around us.
Expectations can really come between us. They split us and separate us from the present moment.
Just today, my youngest son went off to school excited to get the result of an English project he handed in last week.
My expectation radar detector was alerted! Of course, it is as I am writing this particular blog, that this happens. There are no coincidences…
He had made it very clear that he was expecting a good mark because he had worked really hard on it and, as such, he thought he had done well. This gave me the perfect opportunity to help him try to reframe things and understand the potential toxicity of having expectations.
I helped him see that it was good to feel he had done a good job on the project. I focused on helping him see the effort he had put into it but explained that his mark would be his mark regardless of what he expected. Effort is a much better thing to focus on. Where there is effort, the outcome will speak for itself.
I asked him if he could he enter the space of not expecting a certain mark?
He struggled a bit but again, I opened his mind to it all. We would see.
The minute he came home from school I could sense he was “off” and knew exactly what it would be about. He did not get the mark he expected and in all of it couldn’t see that the mark he actually got was his best English mark yet.
He was suffering because of his expectations.
I don’t want my kids to avoid facing being let down, no, not at all. I just want them to understand that if they expect an A and get a C they will be let down. If they expect nothing and get a C, they might still be let down.
EXPECTATIONS DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING SO WHY HAVE THEM?
Expectations focus on the end result and can, therefore, allow us to bypass what it might take to get us to what we expect. In having expectations, we can often miss the journey. If we miss the journey, what chance have we got of getting the end result?
My son missed the most important piece in all of it. He missed the journey, he had overlooked all the effort he had put into his project because he was just focused on the end result which was all tied up in his expectation.
If you take one thing away from this blog, I’d love it to be this: ask yourself if you really need to have expectations? Can you expect the next moment to be just as it is:
Your child’s room is tidy, your child’s room is untidy
You got the job, you didn’t get the job.
You got the A, you didn’t get the A.
Your partner brought in the garbage, your partner didn’t bring in the garbage.
Your child loves playing the piano, your child hates playing the piano.
You got daffodils, you didn’t get daffodils (f*#-ing squirrels :))
THE NEXT MOMENT WILL BE AS IT IS REGARDLESS OF ANY EXPECTATION
Expectations can really come between us and our children and between us and our partner, spouse, relative, boss or friend. They come between us and reality.
I have become far more comfortable with learning to spectate rather than expectate!!
Where possible I try to witness, watch and be a spectator in each moment rather than put expectations on or “should all over” what hasn’t happened yet nor might ever happen.
And the less I expect, the less I suffer.
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PPS. Did you know I have a podcast with over 300 episodes on all things parenting? You can find it HERE – The Parenting In The Thick Of It Show.
PPPS. I have published an amazing family organizer called Parenting In The Thick Of It Family Organizer. Check it out here. https://parentinginthethickofit.com/